A lowly Prince becomes destined to the throne in this adventurous tale that brings together a group of people that help reform Joseon.
Prince Yeoning (Jung Il-Woo) conceals his true nature by living the life of a carefree lout. His trip to Hanyang (Joseon’s capital) leads to a series of events that link together and centre around murders that are rumoured to be committed by Prince Mil Poong. Intrigued and concerned for his younger brother Prince Yeon Ryeong, Yeoning begins investigating on his own. His hunt for the truth has him running into Yeo Ji (Go Ara) an Investigator for the Saheonbu and a zealous lord Mun Su (Kwon Yool) who are just as eager to uncover the murders.
Meanwhile, the Crown Prince is unable to produce an heir which turns the palace on its head. His inability means being stripped of his title and replaced, leading to chaos and a political struggle as various factions begin vying for the throne with the King nearing his death as well. One faction of Joseon referred to as the Norons, begin to aid Prince Mil Poong in order to covet the throne and turn a tyrannical and psychotic man as their King.
What a solid premiere! And I’m standing by my statement that this will be the year that Sageuks make a big comeback and dominate K-dramaland. I never once felt bored or found things too overly complicated to figure out as the show does an excellent job of progressing at a pace where you can fit the pieces together, from the investigations to inner palace turmoil, it’s all executed in a tightly knit manner with no holes thus far.
I also enjoyed uncovering the historical context that the drama is based upon…even if that means some major spoilers as a viewer. Prince Yeoning’s shameful birth with a mother of low origins may seem like a fictitious aspect of the story, but history says otherwise and as it turns out, he’s the son of Consort Choi Suk-Bin a.k.a Dong Yi as most drama viewers are familiar with. Yeoning also ends up being one of the most noted and renowned monarchs in Joseon history, later called King Yeongjo when he ascends to the throne.
And you have to hand it to Jung Il-Woo, he’s nailed the role of a charismatic and intelligent Prince that’s bottling a tremendous amount of capabilities, and knowing who his mother was is a moment where you realize everything makes sense. Yeoning is more than qualified to be King but denies having anything to do with the succession of the throne because his existence is frowned upon. He’s neither of pure royal blood and he isn’t welcomed by commoners either, and it’s this inability to categorize him that forces Yeoning to basically live the life of a loser (by royal standards) despite the fact that one Prince admires him for what he really is and the other wishes to slit his throat.
Yeoning is both feared and loved, and this dysfunctional family dynamic adds another perspective into what he’s truly capable of achieving. The Actor has been excruciatingly under the radar that the success of Haechi’s premiere is dramaland getting it right and giving him the spotlight he deserves. Jung Il-Woo manages to be both charming and perspicacious, easily balancing out various character elements and this attests to his depth and extent of acting. At this point, he’s somewhat of an expert when it comes to Sageuks and the historical genre.
There have been quite a few complaints circulating around Go Ara’s acting although personally, I have nothing to complain about from what I’ve seen and her role here is a far cry from Hwarang. I’ll give her props for at least trying to deviate from typical Sageuk female roles but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s usually typecast and her range in acting is more limited. If she’s able to deliver on a scale similar to Black then she might be able to convince people and gain some respectability as an Actress. It’s always interesting to discover a different kind of female lead in Sageuks other than a humbly Consort (sorry Dong Yi, I’m not hating!) and an Investigator among the majority of male colleagues during the Joseon dynasty, makes Yeo Ji a gem in my books.
The Saheonbu which Yeo Ji is a part of, acts as an investigative justice department but is still marred by the machinations and whims of Ministers and higher-ups. From my understanding, Saheonbu was like a Prosecutor’s office during Joseon times, and members were referred to as Haechi and are essentially protectors of Hanyang. Haechi actually derives from Chinese folklore, as the legendary creature Xiezhi who knew the innocent from the guilty and became a symbol of justice and law. The notion that such a mythical beast only exists in folklore implies that justice is blind and the law corrupt, and this sets the premise of the drama and Yeoning’s reformist ideals or his reason for joining hands with the Saheonbu. It may be a good ploy to catch the King’s eyes and convince Ministers that he’s a force to be reckoned with, but Yeoning has a deep sense of justice whether he realizes it or not.
The cinematography is stunning with a high production quality to depict such an adventurous tale. Each of the actors seems well suited for their roles, and it’s particularly nice to see Park Hoon as a character other than Director Cha from Memories of the Alhambra who was a walking dead man, and Kwon Yool as a whimsical character that brings the comedy and light air when you think things are about to get too dark. With a positive start and entertaining elements, Haechi might land on my list of favourite series for this year so here’s to hoping Jung Il-Woo will win over the masses and make a name for himself with a drama series that will garner him the success he painstakingly deserves!
Release Date: Feburaury 11, 2019 (Eng Sub available on Viki)